The Beautiful Lady Craven

Ashdown House was the subject of a recent talk at Swindon Central Library by best selling author of historical romances Nicola Cornick. The former hunting lodge on the Berkshire and Oxfordshire borders was built in 1662 by the fabulously wealthy William Craven for the exiled Elizabeth of Bohemia, sister of Charles I.

Elizabeth of Bohemia

Elizabeth of Bohemia

The Purbeck stone floor in the entrance hall at Ashdown made from stone quarried in Swindon was just one of the local connections Nicola revealed. And even more interesting were a couple of St John family ones as well.

In 1714, Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke, politically adrift following the death of Queen Anne, holed up at Ashdown House where he plotted and planned to restore James II’s Catholic son to the English throne.

Among the Craven ladies Nicola mentioned was the colourful, self styled ‘beautiful’ Lady Craven.

Elizabeth Berkeley married William Craven, 6th Baron Craven, on May 30, 1767 at St Martin in the Fields, Westminster. Elizabeth would later describe her husband as fond and stupid while she was beautiful and clever. The marriage, which had begun happily enough, eventually failed after thirteen years and seven children. In her memoirs Elizabeth blamed the breakdown on her husband’s affair, but it might not have been quite so one sided as that.

The beautiful Lady Craven

The beautiful Lady Craven

The gutter press of the day delighted in the antics of the indiscreet Lady Craven. And in 1773 literary hostess Mrs Frances Boscawen wrote to that other literary lady, Mrs Mary Delany – “we talk much of Lady Craven and have a variety of stories which I shall not employ my pen to string for you…”

In 1780 Craven settled £1,500 a year upon his troublesome wife, sending her on her way. Taking her youngest son Richard Keppel Craven with her, Elizabeth set up home in a house at Versailles.

An intrepid traveller and prolific writer, Elizabeth’s oeuvre consisted of “sonnets, rebuses, charades, epilogues, and songs, and besides, not a few plays” according to a contemporary. Elizabeth numbered lexicographer Samuel Johnson among her devotees who described her as “the beautiful, gay, and fascinating, Lady Craven.”

William Craven died in 1791 leaving Elizabeth free to marry her longtime amour, also recently widowed, Alexander, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach and Bayreuth, a cousin of George III. Elizabeth and Alexander moved to England where they lived in some style at properties in Hammersmith and Berkshire.

Following Alexander’s death in 1806, Elizabeth returned to the continent. She died at her home, Craven Villa in Posillipo, Naples in 1828. She is buried in the English Cemetery at Naples.

And that all important St John connection? Elizabeth’s daughter Arabella Craven, born in 1774, married General Hon. Frederick St. John, second son of Frederick St John 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke, and Lady Diana Spencer. Ashdown House Today Ashdown House is owned by the National Trust and Nicola is a member of the team of volunteers who undertake guided tours of the property.

The other Elizabeth Blount

Best not to confuse two Tudor cousins both named Elizabeth Blount. One was Henry VIII’s mistress and mother of his son Henry Fitzroy, later Duke of Richmond. The other is immortalised in prayer in St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze and was of an ‘unsullied repute and wholesome life,’ according to the same memorial.

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Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond

This Elizabeth Blount was born c1540 the daughter of Sir Richard Blount and his wife Elizabeth Lister. But perhaps having a King’s mistress in the family wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Well it definitely wasn’t for Sir Richard who managed to secure a few good courtly positions off the back of it. As well as being a Gentleman of the Chamber to Henry VIII, Richard served as a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber during Edward VI’s reign. Catholic Queen Mary proved a bit of an obstacle on his career path, but with the accession of Elizabeth he was soon back in favour. Returned as MP for Steyning in 1553, Richard was Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire in 1559-61 and Lieutenant of the Tower from 1560 until his death in 1564.

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Mapledurham House pictured today.

Home was Mapledurham House, a medieval mansion house near Reading where Elizabeth and her sister and two brothers spent their early childhood. Following her marriage to Nicholas, Elizabeth made her home at Lydiard House where she gave birth to three sons and five daughters.

The richly decorated monument of Nicholas and Elizabeth at prayer is the oldest in the collection of spectacular St John memorials in St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze. Erected by the couple’s dutiful son Sir John it was moved to its present position when his son, John St John, first Baronet, remodelled the South Aisle in 1633. Apparently the achievement on the top was not part of the original design.

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The Nicholas and Elizabeth St John memorial

In 1886 the Bristol firm of Joseph Bell & Sons undertook a number of decorating jobs in the church, including the ‘renovation and decoration of Monuments of Lord Bolingbroke’s Family.’ This included the complete repainting of the memorial to Nicholas St John and his wife Elizabeth.

The monument measures 3.3 metres high; 1.5 metres wide; 1 metre deep and the kneeling figures of Nicholas and Elizabeth measure 1.1 metre high.

The Latin transcription translated reads:

Here lie (good reader) buried in the hope of the blessed resurrection the bodies of Nicholas St John armiger, and of his wife, Elizabeth: he was for the reigns of King Edward, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth of the number of the chosen retinue (commonly called pensioners) and died while holding that rank with the sovereign. Elizabeth his wife was the daughter of Richard Blunt, Knight, and by her had three sons and five daughters: john, Oliver, Richard, Elizabeth, Catherine, Eleanor, Dorothea, and Jane. John his eldest son took to wife the daughter of Walter Hungerford, Knight. Oliver and Richard are still alive, unmarried. Elizabeth his eldest daughter married St George of the County of Cambridge, Catherine [married] Webb, Eleanor [married] Cave of the County of Northampton, Dorothea [married] Egiocke [of the County] of Warwick, Jane [married] Nicholas of the County of Wiltshire. Nicholas St John himself departed this life on the eighth day of November, 1589, and Elizabeth his wife departed this life on the eleventh day of August in the year of our Lord 1587, leaving a noteworthy trophy to those who followed her of unsullied repute and wholesome life. John St John their son set up this monument out of affection to those good parents who had served him so well. In the year of our Lord, 1592.

In life and in death Christ is our riches

Thou who dost hope for the happy span of a long life, Thy hope deceives thee, we both bear witness.

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The 1633 remodelled South Aisle.

Elizabeth Countess of Portsmouth

If the family stories handed down to you included the fate of two first cousins twice removed, beheaded by a tyrannical King, you could be forgiven for being a bit anti-monarchist. Add into the sticky mix a great grandfather who was possibly the illegitimate son of the same red bearded, big cod piece wearing bully and a great great grandmother whose maiden name was Boleyn – well its enough to turn a good gentlewoman a bit, how shall we say, republican!

Elizabeth Howard - a miniature from the studio of John Hoskins the elder. Courtesy of Ham House, Surrey

Elizabeth Howard – a miniature from the studio of John Hoskins the elder. Courtesy of Ham House, Surrey

Elizabeth Howard was the only surviving child of William Howard and his wife Ann. It was William who could trace his lineage through his mother Katherine Carey, the daughter of Henry Carey who was the son of Mary Boleyn and, rumour has it, Henry VIII.

William’s father, Charles 1st Earl of Nottingham was the grandson of the powerful Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk and first cousin to Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s second and fifth wives.

Elizabeth Howard was born on January 19, 1603 at Arundel House, the London Howard family home – “a large and old built house, with a spacious yard for stabling towards the Strand, and with a gate to enclose it, where there was a porter’s lodge, and as large a garden towards the Thames near St Clement Danes.” (British History Online.)

Elizabeth divided her time between her father’s London home and Bletchingley Palace, a manor house given to the family by Queen Elizabeth and once belonging to her father’s fourth wife the unattractive, so say, but extremely fortunate Anne of Cleves.

The year 1603 was a momentous one. A year in which the old Tudor Queen Elizabeth died and James VI of Scotland added the English crown to his portfolio.

Elizabeth Howard by Anthony van Dyck

Elizabeth Howard by Anthony van Dyck

In 1620 Elizabeth married John Mordaunt, who had his own monarchical problems. John was the son of Henry Mordaunt, imprisoned in the Tower of London on suspicion of being involved in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Whether the Crown ever had a case against Henry remains up for debate. He was eventually released after a year in the fortress prison, during which time his son was removed from the family home and made a ward of the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbott.

Fortunately the handsome young Mordaunt heir had caught the eye of King James who had a weakness for a comely pair of male legs. In 1616 he made John a Knight of the Bath as part of the celebrations of the investiture of Charles as Prince of Wales and on March 9, 1628 Charles himself created John 1st Earl of Peterborough. So everything was hunky dory on the royal front then?

However as an impending civil war loomed on the horizon, Elizabeth made no bones about whose side she was on, and it wasn’t the King’s.

Elizabeth and John had three surviving children, sons Henry and John and a daughter Elizabeth.

John died in 1642. Elizabeth outlived him by almost 30 years. She died at their Drayton home in Northamptonshire in 1671. Her body was interred in the churchyard at Chelsea Old Church alongside her father and grandmother Katherine Carey.

So I know you are waiting for the great St John reveal. Well the first connection is straightforward. Elizabeth’s mother was Ann St John of Bletsoe, the daughter of John 2nd Baron St John of Bletsoe and Catherine Dormer from the senior branch of the family descended from Margaret Beauchamp’s elder son John.

 

Anne Leighton

Anne Leighton

But there is another …

Remember Elizabeth’s father William Howard traced his ancestry back to Henry Carey, the son of Mary Boleyn, and possibly Henry VIII. Well Mary had a daughter Catherine who may also have been the daughter of Henry VIII. Catherine Carey married Francis Knollys by whom she had a daughter named Elizabeth. Elizabeth Knollys married Sir Thomas Leighton and their daughter Anne married Sir John St John 1st Baronet, whose magnificent alabaster memorial stands in St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze.

Fascinating, isn’t it!

Elizabeth Mallet Palk – married by owl light

When Horace married Elizabeth they tied the knot ‘at half past seven by owl light.’ Now doesn’t that sound magical – I shall definitely be using that phrase at every possible opportunity in the future.

The young aristocrats married at that celebrity church, St George’s in Hanover Square. According to Lady Charlotte Williams-Wynn the wedding party had something of a wait as the Bishop of Gloucester was locked in the House of Lords for a division.

St George's, Hanover Square.

St George’s, Hanover Square.

Perhaps the guests gathered beneath the portico, watching the rich and famous enjoying an evening promenade along St George’s Street. Or maybe they took a stroll down to the gardens to pass the time.

Set in the very heart of fashionable London, St George’s, built in 1721-25 has been ever popular for society weddings and in 1816 there were 1,063. The first wedding to take place in the new church on April 30 1725 was between David Williams and Sarah Thomas. Flipping through the pages of the registers reveal some notable names. For example, on September 8, 1757 John Calvert married Elizabeth Hulse, the only daughter of Sir Edward Hulse, physician to Queen Anne, George I and George II.

And on July 22, 1765 the Rt Hon William Lord Viscount Folkestone, later to be 1st Earl of Radnor, married his third wife Anne, Lady Dowager Feversham. His grandson, William Pleydell Bouverie, 3rd Earl of Radnor would marry Judith Anne St John Mildmay in 1814 a distance relative of Elizabeth Mallet Palk.  Thereon in the registers are peppered with the great and the good, including a few more St Johns.

wedding

Horace was born in 1791 the younger son of Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour and his wife Lady Anne Horatia Waldegrave. Following the death of his parents Horace was placed with his uncle Lord Hertford who guided him through a military and political career. Horace served as a gentleman usher to the prince regent from 1818-1820 and also from 1820-30 following the princes’ accession to the throne. He then served as a gentleman usher to William IV from 1830-31 followed by service as an equerry 1832-7. He continued service in the reign of the newly crowned Queen Victoria.

The young cavalry officer fought bravely and was said to have killed more men than anyone else at bloody Waterloo, receiving several promotions during that year, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Col Henry Beauchamp Seymour

Elizabeth was one of eight children born to Sir Lawrence Palk, 2nd Baronet and his second wife Lady Dorothy Elizabeth Vaughan. Like several of her siblings, Elizabeth bore the middle name Mallet, reference to her noble ancestors, including another Elizabeth Mallet, wife of the notorious John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester.

At the time of her marriage Elizabeth was living at Suite II, the Secretary of War’s Lodgings at Hampton Court Palace overlooking Base Court. These Grace and Favour apartments were allocated at the discretion of the reigning monarch to those who had performed a great service to the Crown. Some families had a stranglehold on these hugely desirable residences, among them the extended Seymour family.

Base Court, Hampton Court Palace

Elizabeth’s first child, Charles Francis, was born on September 13, 1819 at Rendlesham Hall in Suffolk where the couple were visiting Lord Rendlesham. The child was christened the next day, perhaps because he was not expected to survive. The couple’s next two children were born at their London home 23 Bruton Street, just a few doors up from where Elizabeth II was born. Frederick Beauchamp Paget Seymour born 1821 and his sister Adelaide Horatia Elizabeth born four years later were both christened at St George’s, Hanover Square.

Adelaide

Their fourth child was born in the suite of rooms at Hampton Court Palace that Elizabeth had occupied for so many years. The week old baby girl was christened Gertrude Elizabeth at the parish church of St Mary’s, Hampton on January 20, 1827 – just two days after her mother’s funeral service was held in the same church.

death

The apartment apparently remained in the Seymour tenure as this is where little Gertrude died two years later.  The entry in the parish registers notes that she was buried in a private vault in the church, perhaps reunited with her mother.

Horace continued to lived at Hampton Court Palace and this amusing anecdote is recalled in Factsheet ‘Grace and Favour’ at Hampton Court Palace Suffragettes, Soldiers and Servants 1750 – 1950 Exhibition

Sir Horace Beauchamp Seymour (1791-1851) a single, dashing, former Battle of
Waterloo war hero moved into the palace in 1827. A spate of ‘fainting’ episodes
followed in the Chapel Royal during the services, where the strategically placed
‘helpless’ victims managed to fall into his arms. After the third successive
Sunday of fainting fits, the epidemic was brought to a halt by his aunt, also a
resident, who pinned a note to the Chapel door warning any other would-be
sufferers that Branscombe the Dustman would henceforth be carrying them out
of the Chapel Royal! By the following Sunday the faintings had ceased.

There’s something about Horace that’s just a bit – I don’t know, objectionable, don’t you think? In 1835 he married Frances Poyntz, sister of Georgiana Poyntz wife of Frederick, 4th Earl Spencer. Charles 9th Earl Spencer writes about this marriage in his authoritative book The Spencer Family.

‘Aunt Fan’ was known for her looks and her lack of intelligence. Although she adored Sir Horace, he had married her only to pay off his debts. He never concealed that fact from her and, as soon as the wedding service was over, he retired to his gentleman’s club to resume his bachelor existence. Sir Horace’s sister, a Mrs Damer, was so appalled by his behaviour that she immediately went to a jeweller’s and bought an emerald and diamond halfhoop ring, which she gave to her new sister in law, claiming it was from Seymour. ‘Aunt Fan’ never knew otherwise.

See what I mean?

Of Elizabeth’s three surviving children eldest son Charles, Lieutenant Colonel in the Scots Fusilier Guards, was killed in action at the Battle of Inkerman; second son, Admiral Frederick was a British Naval Commander and created Baron Alcester in 1882.  And in a strange twist of marital fate Horace and Elizabeth’s daughter Adelaide Horatia Elizabeth became the second wife of Frederick Spencer, 4th Earl Spencer. Her 2x great granddaughter was Diana Frances Spencer, later Diana, Princess of Wales.

Diana, Princess of Wales

Diana, Princess of Wales

The ancestry of Elizabeth Mallet Seymour can be traced back to Anne Leighton who married John St John in 1604 and lies buried in the family vault at St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze.

Anne Wilmot

At the end of the 17th century life continued to be pretty short and precarious whatever one’s status. Medicine was still mired in superstition and women of child bearing age were particularly vulnerable.

Johanna St John’s Booke dated 1680 representing a lifetimes collection of receipts and remedies is held at the Wellcome Library, a repository of books, manuscripts and archives recording the history of medicine. Most great homes had just such a book – the difference with Johanna’s is that she included contributions from eminent doctors of the day.

When John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, lay in his final agonies, his mother Anne consulted her sister-in-law Johanna for a draught to ease his sufferings.

Johanna obviously practised what she preached, surviving the birth of 13 children and living to the grand old age of 75. Sadly her three Wilmot great nieces proved to be less fortunate and Anne died in 1703 aged 36.

Anne Wilmot

Anne Wilmot

Anne was the eldest of four children born to Elizabeth Mallet, Countess of Rochester, wife of the disreputable but talented second earl, John Wilmot. Anne’s early childhood was spent largely at her parents Oxfordshire home at Adderbury and her mother’s property at Enmore in Somerset.

It was at Adderbury that Anne married her first husband Henry Baynton in July 1685. Henry, the son of a family friend, was 21 and Anne was 18. Anne was a good catch. Along with her two younger sisters she was co-heiress to her late brother’s estate and brought land valued at £21,000 to the marriage.

The ancient Baynton family had long been pally with the Royal family and had played host to Henry VIII and James I at the magnificent Bromham House. Built in 1538 by Sir Edward Baynton at a reputed cost of £15,000 and said to be as large as the royal palace at Whitehall, sadly Bromham House was destroyed during the Civil War. Sir Edward’s grandson, another Sir Edward (1593-1657) rebuilt the Baynton family home as Spye Park and it was at this address that the newly weds set up home.

Farleigh Hungerford Castle

Farleigh Hungerford Castle

At the time of their marriage Henry, Tory MP for Chippenham, was already engaging in a spot of property speculation, buying Hinton Priory, the Manor of Farleigh Hungerford and various land from the profligate Sir Edward Hungerford.

Known as ‘Hungerford the Waster’ Sir Edward was a distant relative of Henry’s wife Anne. Anne was the 2 x great granddaughter of Lucy Hungerford, pictured with her first husband John on the St John polyptych in St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze. Following John’s death in 1594 Lucy married her kinsman Sir Anthony Hungerford, had three more children, bringing her total up to 13 before dying in 1597. Sir Anthony married secondly Sarah Crouch and Sir Edward was his grandson from this second marriage.

John St John and Lucy Hungerford (centre)

John St John and Lucy Hungerford (centre)

Henry bought the Manor of Farleigh with the Castle for £56,000. Although the immediate Hungerford family mourned the loss, they might have been consoled had they known the Castle remained in the extended Hungerford, St John, Wilmot family.

The young Baynton family moved in but within four years the dream came crashing down about their ears. Henry died suddenly on July 11, 1691 in his 27th year, following a short illness and was buried the same day in the crypt at St Nicholas’ Church, Bromham. Sadly all this property buying had left Henry up to his eyes in debt. His Will written shortly before his death devised most of the Hungerford estates to his executors Sir Edward Warneford and Walter Grubbe, to be sold to clear these debts.

Anne had the income from her mother’s estate at Enmore, which she inherited when she was 24, bit it was far from plain sailing thereon in. Anne was forced to sell most of the remaining Hungerford estates with her favourite Farleigh Castle and Park sold to Hector Cooper of Trowbridge.

Her two young children, John and Anne aged 3 and 2 respectively at the time of their father’s death, were placed under the guardianship of the said Walter Grubbe of Eastwell House, Potterne, MP for Devizes, although they probably continued to live with Anne.

It was imperative that Anne remarry, and quickly, but she chose her new husband carefully, marrying Francis Greville, MP for Warwick, on January 26, 1693. Francis was the son and heir of Fulke Greville, 5th Baron Brooke of Beauchamp’s Court, and herein lies yet another connection to Anne’s St John ancestry.

The Manor of Beauchamp’s Court at Alcester had been acquired by Sir Fulke Greville in the mid 16th century, inherited by his son and grandson. However the third Sir Fulke Greville died in 1628 unmarried and without issue and his titles and estate passed to his adopted son Robert Greville, his second cousin once removed and now came into the branch from which Anne’s second husband Francis descended. Unfortunately Francis missed out on inheriting the title of 6th Baron Brooke and Beauchamp’s Court – oh, and not forgetting Warwick Castle – as he died just 11 days before his father also shuffled off this mortal coil. All the goodies went to Francis and Anne’s eldest son Fulke who only survived his father by four months when everything then went to his brother William.

So where is the St John link? Beauchamp’s Court had once belonged to Walter de Beauchamp, the 4 x great grandfather of matriarchal Margaret Beauchamp who married Oliver St John c1425.

Well now we’ve sorted out that medieval Monopoly board, let’s proceed. Anne went on to have a batch of Greville children, four of whom survived to adulthood. Fulke born c1693, William 1694, Elizabeth and Catherine in 1698.

Her Baynton daughter Anne eventually went on to marry wealthy Edward Rolt while her second Greville son moved into Warwick Castle.

Anne died in 1703. Her body was returned to Bromham for burial alongside her first husband Henry. The photograph of her memorial in the church is reproduced here courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball.

Anne Wilmot's memorial Bromham

Many thanks to the Baynton History website.

Malet Wilmot, Lady Lisburne

If you’ve ever been embarrassed by a spot of dad dancing or a dodgy jumper and slacks combo, spare a thought for Malet Wilmot, youngest daughter of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester.

Lady Malet Wilmot

Lady Malet Wilmot

Malet’s dad was probably the most outrageous member of Charles II’s Restoration court, and that in itself is quite an accolade. He produced some of the rudest poetry and plays ever written and led a life of debauchery, dying at the age of 33 probably from syphilis or maybe alcoholism.

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl Rochester

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl Rochester

In 1665 he attempted an abduction of the wealthy heiress Elizabeth Malet, after which he spent three weeks on the naughty step in the Tower of London. But perhaps it was all just a playful escapade as the lady married him some two years later anyway.

Elizabeth Malet, Countess of Rochester

Elizabeth Malet, Countess of Rochester

Malet, the youngest of their four children, was born in 1675. Her father succumbed to his excessive lifestyle in 1680 when she was barely five years old and her mother died less than a year later, so little Malet probably had scant memory of either of her parents.

The orphaned children then came under the guardianship of their formidable, puritanical grandmother, the Dowager Countess of Rochester, the former Anne St John. It must have all come as a bit of a shock!

Anne St John, Dowager Countess of Rochester

Anne St John, Dowager Countess of Rochester

Yet despite her notorious father, or perhaps because of him, Malet was a very desirable prospect in the marriage stakes. Her brother Charles had died aged just 10, leaving his three sisters as co-heiresses of the Rochester family fortunes.

Malet was married off at the age of 17 to wealthy Welsh landowner John Vaughan. The marriage took place at St Giles’ in the Fields on August 18, 1692. Consent was given by Malet’s meddling grandmother, the Dowager Countess of Rochester who had recently moved from her Oxfordshire home to a property in St Anne’s, Soho.

The couple had six children – three sons and three daughters – all of whom were christened at Trawsgoed, a vast estate extending across 22 parishes in Cardiganshire, complete with panoramic views of the Cambrian mountains and the remains of a Roman fort, held by the Vaughan family since 1200.

Trawsgoed mansion house

Trawsgoed mansion house

John Vaughan served as MP for Cardiganshire 1694-1698 and was created baron Fethers and Viscount Lisburne by William III on June 25, 1695.

In 1720 Lord Lisburne sold the manor of Sutton Mallet in Somerset, an estate that had been held by his deceased wife’s Malet family for as long as Trawsgoed had been owned by his own. The property was bought by the disreputable Robert Knight, cashier of the doomed South Sea Company. His son, Robert Knight, Lord Luxborough, bought the manor following the enforced sale of his father’s estate. For readers keeping track of St John family doings – Robert Knight, Lord Luxborough, was the husband of Henrietta St John. Malet and Henrietta shared a common ancestry and were the great grandchildren of John St John, 1st Baronet, and Anne Leighton and were, therefore second cousins.

Elizabeth Barry

Elizabeth Barry

Malet died in 1716 aged 40ish. Did she have a problem with her Papa’s past? Apparently not as she appears to have kept up a correspondence with Elizabeth Barry, one of her father’s mistresses and mother of his natural daughter Elizabeth Clerke. The former actress wrote letters to Malet full of local news and gossip. Well who would have thought?

And for the Royal watchers among you – Lady Malet Wilmot is the 8x great grandmother of William, Duke of Cambridge.

kate-middleton-prince-william-royal-family-photo-ftr

Henrietta Knight

Henrietta Knight was a clever, spirited girl, in character very much like her mother… and therein lay the problem. This is the tale of an illicit love, separation and exile with the rumour of a royal lovechild.

Henrietta Magdalena Knight

Henrietta Magdalenna Knight

The daughter of Henrietta St John and Robert Knight, later Lord Luxborough, Henrietta was born at her parents’ Grosvenor Street home on November 21, 1729. Named after her grandmother and her mother she was variously known as Madelaine Henrietta and Henrietta Magdalenna.

Henrietta's mother, Lady Luxborough

Henrietta’s mother, Lady Luxborough

Her parents’ marriage hit the skids in 1736 when her mother Henrietta engaged in a flirtatious relationship with poet and clergyman John Dalton, tutor to Lord Beauchamp, the son of her friend Frances, Lady Hertford. Henrietta pleaded her innocence, but this wasn’t her first indiscretion and her husband Robert was having none of it. He banished his wife to Barrells, the family home in Warwickshire and denied her access to her two young children, Henry 8 and little Henrietta 7. Little is known of the childhood of the two little Knight children other than it was one of wealth and privilege, estranged from their mother.

The parish registers of St James’s, Westminister includes the marriage allegation made on May 27, 1748 - ‘Charles Wymondesold of Wanstead in the County of Essex, Esquire aged twenty seven year and a Bachelor and aledged that he intendeth to marry the Honble Miss Henrietta Knight of the parish of St James Westminister in the County of Middlesex aged eighteen year and a spinster with the consent of the Honble Robert Lord Luxborough her father now present.’

Henrietta brought £5,000 to the marriage while Charles received £5,000 from his father plus a further £1,000 a year in land. The couple divided their time between their London home and the Wanstead family estate still occupied by Wymondesold senior.

Life in Wanstead was sociable and among the Wymondesold’s frequent guests was near neighbour Lord Tylney and his brother, the dashing Captain of Dragoons, Josiah Child.

You’ve guessed what follows! The Wymondesolds had barely celebrated their leather anniversary when they separated. Henrietta was to write in a letter to Child that she “never would have yielded myself a slave to passion but you found my heart an easy conquest because it was fraught with esteem and every good opinion of you.”  Like her mother these letters proved her downfall and were later used against her.

Henrietta and her mother had been reunited at the time of her marriage in 1748. Mother and daughter enjoyed a brief affectionate relationship during which they exchanged frequent letters. However, when Henrietta began her relationship with Child her mother would write to her friend William Shenstone:

“My spirits are not only depressed with what affects yours, as solitude, winter storms and more heavy winter evenings but also by the storm my daughter’s imprudence (to call it by no worse name) had raised, not only in her family but in the world. This melancholy scene to her friends, is, I suppose, an amusement to the public, and will shortly be a still greater one, who will divert themselves at her and her favourite’s expence, whilst her husband and friends lament her folly.”

Captain Josiah Child

Captain Josiah Child

Despite a plea from Wymondesold that Henrietta should keep away from Child, the couple continued to see each other with assignations in Paris and London – so it was back to the Courts where a new deed of separation was drawn up in June 1752. Wymondesold sued Child for £20,000 damages and was awarded £2,500 in February 1753, effectively condemning the lovers to a life of debt and exile.

A son was born in Paris on January 28, 1754 and the Wymondesold marriage was dissolved by an act of parliament on March 7.  Henrietta and Josiah were married in Paris on May 3.

Lord Luxborough was more forgiving of his daughter than he had been of his wife and apparently never criticised her behaviour and even sent her money for the support of her child.

The couple’s marriage was a happy if relatively short one. Josiah died at Lyons in the winter of 1759/60 most probably from consumption. Their son, 9 year old Josiah junior was returned to England where he became the ward of his grandfather, but found it difficult to settle in the unfamiliar country. It is said that he returned to the continent with an Italian family. The date and whereabouts of his death remain unknown.

Henrietta made her will on October 27, 1761, seven months before she married for the third time. It would remain unchanged at the time of her death less than two years later. On December 11, 1778 administration was granted to the Reverend Daniel Collins Clerk and Thomas Lloyd Esquire the Curators in Guardians of her second son Louis Henry Scipio Grimoard de Beauvoir, Count Duroure ‘for the Use and benefit of the said Minor and until he shall attain the Age of twenty one years’ following the death of both Henrietta’s father and presumably her son Josiah as well.

The brief document reads:

In the Name of God Amen Henrietta Child Widow of the late Honourable Josiah Child deceased being of sound and disposing Mind and Memory do hereby revoke all former wills by me made and declare this to be my last Will and Testament I desire to be buried by my late husband at Wanstead in the family Vault belonging to the Earl Tylney which favour I request of his Lordship. I will that all such Just Debts as I shall contract from the date hereof and the Expenses of my ffuneral be fully paid and discharged then I give to the Earl Tylney to my ffather and to my Brother one hundred pounds each to buy Rings And all the Rest and Residue of my personal estate whatsoever and wheresoever I give to my ffather Robert Lord Luxborough In Trust for the sole Use and Benefit of my son Josiah Child …

Her third husband was French nobleman Louis Alexandre de Grimoard of Beauvoir. Sadly Henrietta died in Marseille on March 1, 1763 after giving birth to a son, Louis Henri Scipio Grimoard of Beauvoir. She was 34 years old. Her body was bought back to England where her grieving father erected a memorial to both his children in the church of St Peter, Wootton Wawen, Warwickshire.

Frederick, Prince of Wales

Frederick, Prince of Wales

So what’s all this about a royal lovechild? Rumour had it that in 1748 the newly married Henrietta was introduced to Frederick, Prince of Wales by her cousin Frederick, Viscount Bolingbroke. A child born in 1750 and named Charles Knight was supposedly the illegitimate son of the Prince of Wales and a ‘Miss Knight,’ putting Henrietta firmly in the frame. There are, however, a few questions that need to be answered. The child was raised in the household of an unmarried clergyman by the name of Revd James Hampton, which in itself was unusual; royal bastards usually remained within the mother’s family with barely a flinch from the cuckold husband. It is possible that Henrietta had already acquired something of a reputation and that society gossips pinned the child’s parentage on her.

The two companion portraits of Henrietta and Josiah Child hang in The Dressing Room at Lydiard House, a room devoted to that other scandalous Lady St John, Diana Spencer.